Hidden History of London – Bow Church

In the summer of 1888 fifteen hundred “factory girls”, led by Fabian journalist Annie Beasant, walked out of their jobs at the Bryant & May match factory in Bow in demand for higher wages and safer working conditions.

Not only were the girls poorly paid but they worked in an appallingly dangerous environment, it was not unusual to see “match girls” cough up phosphorous vomit in the street after their shift.

The public gave support and within two weeks the employers caved in. The girls got a safer working place and an extra four bob (20 pence) a week! The old red bricked factory with its Italianate towers has now been converted into luxury apartments, mortgages available to match girls on at least four bob a week!

Theodor Bryant, one half of the match manufacturer duo, unveiled a statue, which he personally paid for, to the then Prime Minister, W E Gladstone, in 1882. The ten foot high statue by Albert Bruce-Joy stands near Bow Church yard. On close inspection you will see that the pedestal has been daubed with red paint. Who did that then? Campaigners that’s who. Why?

The East End has a proud history of campaigning, in 1913 Sylvia Pankhurst founded the East London Federation of the Women’s Social and Political Union – the Suffragettes.

They won the vote for women (can you believe that less than a hundred years ago only men had the right to vote), the birthplace of the movement was over a baker’s shop in Bow Road.

Sylvia’s memory is alive and kicking, it was modern day fans who recently threw red paint over the Gladstone statue as it was paid for by the “blood of the match girls”. The local council cleaned off the paint, but it was soon re-daubed! So the “blood remains today”! See it and praise.

The match girls strike was followed by the gas workers strike at Beckton and then the first London dock strike lasting five weeks. Girl power began!